Students’ Interest in Education, Careers Found To Be Increasing

By Alex Heard — April 04, 1984 4 min read

Washington--A new survey of student attitudes on dozens of subjects--ranging from school life to national politics to fears about nuclear war--shows a notable shift toward education and careers as student priorities compared with a similar survey conducted 10 years ago.

Released here last week by the National Association of Secondary School Principals, “The Mood of American Youth” survey also indicates that students today have a “more positive” attitude toward schools and learning.

The 1984 survey report shows a “substantial jump” over 1974 in the percentage of students who plan to continue their schooling after high school. When asked to list “the one thing they want out of life,” the students gave “career success” as the most frequent response.

“The shift in priorities between 1974 and 1984 reflects in part a shift in the adult mood in those years--for the last 10 years the economic picture has been sobering for kids as well as adults,” said Scott D. Thomson, executive director of nassp

Nevertheless, cautions the report’s author, Janis Cromer, “depicting today’s youths as driven by an overwhelming desire for career achievement would be a false picture.” While the 1980’s youths do place a high priority on jobs, she said, they are also concerned with “less definable” things such as happiness and family life.

The report is based on an extensive 1983 survey of 1,500 students in grades 7 through 12, and compares that year’s students with a group surveyed in 1973. Eighty-seven percent of those surveyed attend public schools. The survey, which was conducted by National Family Opinions Inc., was designed to provide a representative sample of the national population.

‘Solid B’

Generally, the 1980’s students appear to be “positive” about their schools, according to the report. In a “rating” of their schools that was admittedly colored more by social than by academic considerations, the students who were surveyed gave their schools an “overall grade of 2.95 on a scale of 4.0--a solid B.”

‘Learning’ Third

When asked why they like school, however, the students ranked “learning” a distant third behind “friends” and “sports.”

Mr. Thomson of nassp cautioned against interpreting such results “to conclude that everything in the schools is hunky dory and that we don’t have need for major improvement.”

“Young people feel better about their schools than their parents do,” he said. “The students’ attitude toward learning is better today, but we’re not yet where we need to be.”

Seventy percent of the students rated their teachers “competent in their subject areas.” Again, purely academic considerations were overshadowed somewhat. When asked to list the characteristics of their best teachers, the students mentioned their teachers’ skills at “explaining things clearly,” “spending time to help students,” and “having a sense of humor” as their top considerations. “Teachers’ knowledge of their subjects” ranked seventh on a list of the traits of the “best” teachers.

Among the many other topics in the survey:

Sixty percent of the students spent eight hours or fewer per week doing homework, a figure that confirms, the report says, the conclusion of the National Commission on Excellence in Education that students do too little homework.

Asked about specific classes, the students ranked mathematics, English, computer science, and driver’s education as the most important. Science was ranked fifth and foreign languages 13th. Religion, music, art, and black studies were ranked lowest.

Ninety-two percent of the students surveyed said they believe high-school students should hold part-time jobs during the school year, and most said they believe students should work full time during the summer.

At the time of the survey, however, only 30 percent of the students were working at paying jobs. The most common types of employment were in retail sales (usually as a clerk or stocker), restaurants, or newspaper delivery.

More than three-quarters of the students polled said they plan to continue their education after high school.

They listed computer-related jobs as their first career choice (this was particularly true among males). The other top choices were business, careers in or related to medicine, teaching, law, engineering, and accounting, in that order.

The students rated the threat of nuclear disaster and world war as today’s most pressing global issues. In 1974, students said the world’s most important problems were overpopulation and environmental preservation.

At the time the survey was con-ducted--in early 1983--the students did not express strong support for the Reagan Administration. Only about 12 percent of the students said they were “very confident” in President Reagan.

Joining the armed services is apparently no more popular today than it was in 1974. Three-quarters of the students surveyed--the same percentage as in 1974--said they will “definitely not” or “probably not” enlist for military duty.

Musically, “rock” is still ranked first among the responding students, outpacing “new wave” as the music of choice by more than 2 to 1. “Country and western” was ranked third, with “folk,” “religious,’' “jazz” and “pop” at the bottom.

The survey is available for $5 (plus $2 for shipping) from nassp Publication Sales, 1904 Association Drive, Reston, Va. 22091.

A version of this article appeared in the April 04, 1984 edition of Education Week as Students’ Interest in Education, Careers Found To Be Increasing